I try to write a blog post each week to inspire and encourage God’s people to stop filling rows and start forming circles – to find creative ways in their churches and in their lives to meet face-to-face, live side-by-side, and minister to one another. Over the past 20 years, my husband and I have had tastes of deep, rich, Christ-centred community which have thrilled and delighted us, and made us hungry for more.
But I’m worried I may have done the wrong thing by my readers. I’m concerned I may have painted a romantic notion of Christian community, which doesn’t match up with reality.
I think I might have made it sound easier than it is.
I’ve joined the gym recently – which is a pretty big deal for me. I haven’t exercised properly for years. I have 4 kids, aged 3-15, so the only time I can get to the gym is 6am – and I am NOT a morning person! It’s easy for me to fantasise about becoming fit, looking great and being able to jog for miles effortlessly. But in reality, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and discipline for me to get there (and I’m never going to achieve the “effortlessly” bit).
It’s not a perfect analogy, but the gym reminds me of the cost of community. I’m not going to get fit by buying a gym membership. I have to turn up and put in the effort. I’m not going to create authentic, Christ-centred community just by talking about it. I have to show up and put in the effort. I need to be intentional and focused. I’ll have to think about my goals and remember them when times get tough. I have to establish sustainable rhythms. I need to understand there will be pain along the way, but it’s worth it.
In many ways, going to the gym is much easier than living like God’s family. Community is unpredictable and can be terribly painful. The deeper we go with people, the messier it gets. People are messy. Annoying, even. They bring different world views, personality clashes, power struggles and interpersonal conflict. Sometimes they have unhealthy reasons for being there. Sometimes they want to use us to meet their emotional needs. There are times when God’s family feels every bit as dysfunctional as any ordinary human family has the potential to be.
But we were made for family. Family is part of God’s design for all of us. Big, messy, extended families, with strays and adoptees and guests, and crazy Uncle Jim. We are most truly alive in relationship with others. If we put the work in, and consistently pursue reconciliation, there will be beautiful moments. It will be worth it.
I write about meeting in circles – so we can see each other face-to-face. So we can practice dialogue, and listening, and active learning, and mutual ministry. These elements are supposed to be part of our church life, and they’re much more likely to happen in circles than rows. But I also know that rows are easier than circles. A number of churches have tried meeting in circles – but pulled back – it makes people too uncomfortable, there might be conflict, it could get messy and out of control, the handicapped guy talks for too long, the wrong people speak up. There’s a big temptation to go back to a controlled, rehearsed performance. It’s ever so much easier to meet once a week, sitting in rows, listening to one person speak, and finishing up with a brief chat over coffee. Easier, but lacking the power of transformational community.
I hope I haven’t painted romantic, unrealistic pictures of Christian community which don’t ever meet up with reality. I pray you will be able to find, and create, and nurture, and develop spaces to be God’s family face-to-face.
And I hope tomorrow morning I make it to the gym…